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Generation Ecstasy - into the world of techno and rave culture (New York, London, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company) 1998
Chapter 16 - Crashing the Party:
American Rave's Descent Into the Darkside, 1993-97
by Simon Reynolds
(page 298-303, excerpt from chapter 16)
ISBN 0-316-74111-6



front cover
back cover
click thumbnail to enlarge front cover or read inside flap synopsis

 

Techno is the Devil's Music! Beware the
hypnotic voodoo rhythm, a reckless
dance down the Devil's road of sin and
self-destruction, leading youth to eternal
damnation in the fiery depths of hell!

DROP BASS NETWORK
flyer for Even Furthur, May 1996


Despite the ritual burning of a wicker man, it's hard to take Even Furthur seriously as "an epic pagan gathering of the tribes of Evil." The vibe is closer to a scout retreat (which is actually what the site, Eagle Cave in rural Wisconsin, is usually hired out for). After sundown, kids sit around bonfires on the hill slope, toasting marshmallows and barbecuing burgers. The atmosphere is a peculiar blend of innocent outdoor fun and hardcore decadence. For if this is a scout camp, it's one awash with hallucinogens.

Under a disco glitterball suspended from a tree, a gaggle of amateur dealers trade illegal substances. "Are you buying more acid, Craig?" asks one kid, incredulous at his buddy's intake. The vendor is offering five doses for $20. "Weird Pyramids ain't nuthin' compared to these," he boasts, then extemporizes to the tune of Johnny Nash's soul smash: "I can see Furthur now the rain is gone / I can see all the mud and freaks at play." Conversation turns to bad trip casualties, like the guy who went berserk, smashed in several windshields with a log, and was carted off by the local sheriff. The LSD dealer rants about "rich kid crybabies" who can't handle their drugs. He's also offering some G (the steroidlike GHB) and "Sweet Tart" XTC. "They're mushy," he hard-sells, "but there's a speed buzz, they won't smack you out - there's no heroin in them." Later, we hear rumors of kids injecting Ecstasy - not for its putative heroin content, but out of sheer impatience to feel the rush.

The scary thing is how young these kids are - hardened drug veterans before they're legally able to drink at age twenty-one. I overhear another boy enthusing about how great it is to "hear the old music, like Donna Summer," and I realize with a shock that "I Feel Love" came out before this kid was even born. In Even Furthur's main tent, Chicago DJ Boo Williams is playing a set of voluptuous, curvaceous house informed by this golden era of disco, tracks like Gusto's "Disco Revenge."

Then Scott Hardkiss pumps out feathery, floaty softcore (including his awesomely eerie remix of Elton John's "Rocket Man") sending silvery rivulets of rapture rippling down every raver's flesh. My wife points out a boy who's dancing with a folding chair strapped to his back, a sort of portable chill-out zone. A space-cadet girl sits cross-legged beside the DJ both, eyes closed rocking and writhing in X-T-C. Earlier she'd been handing out leaflets about aliens called "The Greys," who she claims are from Zeta Riticuli in the constellation Orion and are in league with US military intelligence. Abduction stories and UFO sightings are common at American raves, doubtless because of the prodigious consumption of hallucinogens. Loads of kids wear T-shirts featuring slant-eyes ET-type humanoids.

There's a certain folksy charm to Wisconsin's small-town ways: when we tell a curious storekeeper we're in town for "a music festive," she quaintly replies "cool bean!" (meaning "good for you!"). But there's also the unnerving underside of traditionalism, like the grotesque graveyard of tiny crosses by the roadside - a memorial to aborted fetuses put up by Pro-Life evangelists. All in all, this agrarian backwater is the last place you'd expect to find a psychedelic freak-out. But the wilds of Wisconsin is where the Furthur series of three-day raves have taken place since 1994. On the rave's flyers, the trippy typography harks back to the posters for acid rock bands in Haight-Ashbury, while the misspelled "Furthur" originates in the destination posted on the front of the bus driven by the Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey's troupe of acid evangelists.

During the first Furthur "techno campout" - at Hixton, Wisconsin, from April 29 to Mary 1, 1994 - one of the promoters (David J. Prince, editor of Chicago rave-zine Reactor) got so blissed he danced naked on a speaker stack. On the final Sunday, several organizers were arrested by the local sheriff. At the third annual rave, there's no trouble from the law. But Even Furthur is a lawless zone. Although you have to pay for admission, the atmosphere is closer to England's illegal free parties than to a commercial rave.

The Even Furthur kids aren't crusty-traveler types, though - they're much more fashion-conscious and middle-class, as American ravers tend to be. The guys sport sock hats and B-boyish silver chains that dangle in a loop from the waist to the knee. Girls have the Bjork-meets-Princess-Leia space-pixie look of a futuristic innocence; their shiny synthetic fabrics, bright kindergarten colors, bunched pigtails, cutesy backpacks, and cuddly toys make them look even younger than they really are (mostly sixteen to twenty-two). Everyone wears absurdly baggy jeans, the flared bottoms soaked in mud because continual downpour had transformed the campsite into a swamp.

Like Castlemorton, Even Furthur is a chaotic sprawl of cars, RV caravans, trailers, and tents. There's no security and no lighting; you have to stumble glint of bonfires dotting the hill slope. All this gets to be a gas, although it's slightly disturbing that there's no on-site paramedics to deal with acid freakouts, like the shoeless, shirtless, mud-spattered boy who keeps howling single words over and over - "Friends! Friends!," "Worms! Worms! Worms!," "Dead!" - while other kids try to restrain him from fleeing into the woods. In England, the main reason to have paramedics is to help Ecstasy overindulgers. But at Even Furthur, boiling alive in your own blood is not really a hazard. It's cold and wet, and over exertion is difficult, because dancing is a struggle: the second tent is a puddle-strewn marsh (take a wrong step and you'll slide into a sinkhole), while the main tent's floor is slippery and sloping.

Over three days, some hundred DJs and bands perform, spanning a broad spectrum of rave music. There's a surprising amount of jungle on offer: Mixmaster Morris spins crisp-'n-mellow drum and bass in a small hillside tent, while Phantom 45 rinses out tearin' hardstep in the big marquee. Not everybody's happy about the jungle influx, though. Sitting outside on a car, a gabba fan whines, "Why do breakbeats make me puke?" What really fires the pleasure centers of this mostly midwestern, Minneapolis/Chicago/Milwaukee crowd in the stomping four-to-the-floor kick drums of hard acid, as purveyed by Brooklyn's Frankie Bones and Minnesota's Woody McBride (whose Communique label copromoted Furthur in tandem with Drop Bass Network and David Prince). Saturday's big hit, though, is French due Daft Punk and their sinuous, sine-wavy brand of raw-but-kitschadelic house.

Unlike your regular commercial rave, Even Furthur has hardly any concessions selling food or drink. In search of liquid, we trek up the treacherously moist slope out of the camp toward the site owner's hut, where there are toilets and a soft drink machine. It's pitch black as we trudge up the dirt road, but every so often we pass a tiny bonfire with a clutch of burned-out kids huddled together on muddy ledges carved into the hillside, chatting and smoking weed. When we return down the hill, the pale roseate dawn is peeking through the trees, caressing our sore eyes. But as we get closer, our sore ears are assaulted by a 200 bpm jackhammer pummel: the DJs aren't chilling out the night's survivors but blasting ten thousand volts of gabba. At 7 a.m., gabbaphobe Mixmaster Morris retaliates with an impromptu audience of exactly zero. "I've been here since Wednesday," Morris tells me. "That's why I smell so bad!" He plays on for six more hours.

On Sunday evening, it's stopped raining at last, the mud had dried, and the slightly reduced crowd consists of the hardcore party people who just don't wanna go home. The Drop Bass Network crew pose for a photo like end-of-year college students. I chat to their leader, Kurt Eckes, who tells me over three thousand people turned up, some from as far away as Florida, California, and Arizona.

Thinking of the teenage acid casualty the previous night, I suggest to Kurt that some of the kids here look kinda young. Do their parents know what they're up to? "I suspect they don't," he says, adding blithely that "a couple of parents called here threatening to phone the police for having fourteen-and-fifteen-year-old kids here without parental permission." Eckes's nonchalance stems from Drop Bass Network's militantly underground attitude. "There are no rules here at all," he grins.

DBN is all about representing the rave scene's dark side. "Within the rave scene, there's definitely some things going on which to most people seem wrong," Eckes told Urb magazine. "They seem right to us. We're just pushing those things to the limit." DBN's version of rave might be called psychodelic rather than psychedelic. Distancing himself from the Second Summer of Love idyllicism of 1988, Eckes once declared: "I don't see myself going to a party, talking E, hugging people, screaming peace and love. I'm more...a person who'd rather go to a party, take a lot of acid, and hug speakers." As Eckes and I chat, the nearest sound system is pumping out Test's "Overdub," a classic Roland 303-meets-gabba blitzkrieg unleashed in 1992 by Dance Ecstasy 2001, sister label of Frankfurt's PCP. As well as a party promoter, DBN is a record label specializing in PCP-style industrial-strength hardcore and mindfucker acid; the label's third release was titled "Bad Acid - No Such Thing." But DBN's most punishing output is released via a sublabel called SixSixtySix. The Satanic allusion is a clue Eckes's subcultural strategy - turning heavy metal kids onto techno (Milwaukee is a big town for thrash and "black" metal).

As well as the Furthur events, DBN throw regular "techno-pagan ritual parties," often timed for the solstices. One such party - Grave Rave, on Halloween Night 1992 - was treated like a modern-day witches' mass by the authorities. Armed police stormed the building and arrested not just the organizers but the entire audience. After being detained in handcuffs for five hours, 973 people were issued $325 citations for "aiding and abetting the unlicensed serving of alcohol" (in fact only a few cans of beer were found). Those under seventeen were also given tickets for violating the "teen curfews" that Milwaukee, like many American cities, instituted to "protect the young." But four hundred of those prosecuted pleaded not guilty, ultimately forcing the city to drop the charges because of bad publicity concerning the police's overreaction. Undaunted, DBN threw a sequel "Helloween 93" party called Grave Reverence, trailed with the promise "demons of the darkside taking control of your soul."

Even Furthur is a microcosm of American rave culture in the late nineties. On the upside, Furthur wouldn't exist without the zeal of the promoters (who definitely aren't in it for the meager profits) and the dedication of the kids, who are prepared to drive five to fifteen hours to rave, and who sustain the geographically dispersed scene via the Internet and fanzines like Tripp E Tymes. But on the downside, there's the debauched extremity of the drug use, the tender age of the participants, and the precarious relationship with the law (the reason why Even Furthur had to take place at such a remote, rural location).

take a trip
flyer for furthur rave festival in wisconsin, april/may 1994,
with haight-ashbury typography and ken kesey's lsd bus paying homage to the original psychedelic counterculture; the micro-flyer hints that the devil has all the best beats

 

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